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    Archive for the 'Learning designs' Category

    Accessible Moodle wishlist

    By Jessica Gramp, on 20 June 2017

    The following outlines recommendations from the Accessible Moodle project to improve the accessibility of UCL Moodle for disabled students and staff, as well as improve usability for all users. These have been informed by focus groups with disabled students and staff; analysis of how UK websites adhere to accessibility guidelines; and research of relevant journal articles and accessibility guidelines.

    Our primary aim is to ensure Moodle is technically accessible using assistive technologies including ZoomText, JAWS screen-reader, Read & Write, Dragon NaturallySpeaking voice recognition software, as well as other assistive technologies commonly used at UCL. In addition, keyboard-only access should be fully supported. It is also important that UCL Moodle is usable for those with disabilities, as well as the wider student and staff community.

    In order to develop these requirements, the project team ran focus groups with UCL students and staff with disabilities, to find out what they found difficult to use within Moodle and what suggestions they had for improvements. I have blogged previously about the background to the project and the outcomes of these focus groups.

    A number of sources were also referenced to see how Moodle could be made to better adhere to accessibility guidelines. The most important of these are the following three guidelines from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) :

    • Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA for making Moodle and its content more accessible.
    • Web Accessibility Initiative – Accessible Rich Internet Applications Suite (WAI-ARIA) for designing Moodle so users of assistive technologies, like screen-readers, can navigate and read its pages.
    • Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG) for making the Moodle rich text editors more accessible.

    A number of websites were also analysed to compare how each of them implemented W3C guidelines.

    The list that follows is a wish list, which may not all be implemented, but gives us a guide for how we might improve Moodle. Although there are many other elements that are important, but not mentioned below, the following makes a start of improving the interface for disabled  and non-disabled users alike.

    We are taking a multi-faceted approach to resolve the issues identified, and work is likely to be ongoing, but here’s a list of changes we’d like to see made to make Moodle more accessible.

    Assistive Technology compatibility.

    The following requirements are likely to require implementation at multiple levels, so don’t easily fit under any single development areas below. The project aims to achieve the following requirements:

    • Content and editing features are available to screen-readers, or suitable alternatives are available – e.g. offline marking in Word enables in-line marking for assessments.
    • Navigation is straight-forward, with content appearing before menus and appropriate headings, links and lists being utilised to enable easy navigation using common screen-reader features. E.g. the list of module tutor names under every Moodle course name in the search results means that hundreds of links are listed to screen-reader users and sighted users are overwhelmed by irrelevant information which needs to be scrolled past, and which is particularly problematic for those with dyslexia.
    • All images have alt tags (even if these are empty), or in the case of icons that supplement text, they use ARIA tags to tell screen-readers to ignore them.
    • Accepts user input using voice recognition software, like Dragon Naturally Speaking.
    • Enables magnification by ensuring the pages display well when the browser is zoomed in or when zooming software is used.
    • Visible focus when using the keyboard (tab, space, enter and arrow keys) to navigate.
    • Supports the use of OpenDyslexi font, available as a browser plugin to help those with dyslexia read text.

    A multi-faceted approach

    The following five areas outline the different ways in which Accessibility improvements can be made to UCL Moodle.

    1. A new, more accessible UCL Moodle theme for use on desktop and mobile devices.
      • Minimise clutter, by enabling blocks to be hidden and removing extraneous information.
      • Position elements for optimal access. E.g. ensure the login is prominent and important course features are easy to access.
      • Simplify the menus, by showing relevant links only to relevant users. E.g. staff see different links from students.
      • Improve the course icons by making them larger and clearer. E.g. the maximise block link is not intuitive.
      • Show alerts to users – e.g. explaining that editors can drag and drop files, warnings of Moodle outage periods.
      • Improve navigation, e.g. by enabling links to key areas that users expect.
      • Use high contrasting colours on a pale background that is easy to read for those with dyslexia (e.g. not white).
    2. Changes to Moodle configuration.
      • Configure text editors so they encourage accessible content design. E.g. offering heading styles 3-5, removing the inclination for people to add heading 1 and 2 tags when these are used at higher levels within Moodle pages.
      • Enable global search (assuming this does not negatively impact performance).
      • Allow students and staff to personalise the interface by enabling courses to be moved up and down on the My Home page, hide and show blocks, maximise the screen or use a default width better for reading and dock blocks.
    3. Enhanced Moodle features.
      A number of plugins to Moodle exist that make Moodle more usable and improve accessibility.

      • Implement and configure user tours to help users understand how to use Moodle and point to help with accessibility features.
      • Install the course checks plugin to help staff create an accessible Moodle course – e.g. checks for assignment due dates in past, courses not reset, broken links.
      • Implement a Moodle course site map so students can easily see what is available on a course on one page.
      • Enable importing content from Word, which some users find easier to edit within than Moodle.
      • Pilot the Blackboard Ally plugin to help in the creation of more accessible learning resources and course structures.
      • Install the Office 365 plugin to make it easier to author, organise and link or embed content into Moodle (coming to Moodle core in v3.3).
      • Enable staff to add icons to help signpost particular areas of their course and help people who prefer these visual cues, as opposed to having to read excessive text.
    4. Improved training, staff development and support.
      • Develop a course for Moodle editors so they understand how to develop accessible Moodle resources and activities.
      • Develop an online course to explain how Assistive Technologies can be used with Moodle (e.g. regions for JAWS, browser plugins to show a reading ruler, change fonts to OpenDyslexi font, improve colour contrast).
    5. Improved interfaces by proposing enhancements to Moodle HQ and iParadigms (who provide Turnitin).
      • Adequately signpost links showing (new window, document, external/internal etc) automatically.
      • Enable users to personalise their experience by allowing them to choose their own course format, set blocks to particular colours.
      • Improve assessment interfaces, such as the Moodle Assignment rubric functionality and display.
      • Flag new items on the Moodle course page (allow this to be enabled/disabled in user preferences).
      • Improve the Moodle calendar – e.g. size, reliance on colour, clicking month to access full screen.
      • Improve the discussion forums – e.g. showing the entire thread when replying, the accessibility of the email alerts it sends.
      • Fix Moodle heading tags.

    The UCL Digital Education team, staff in Disability Support teams and staff from IT for IoE  are slowly working through each of these five strands to make improvements to virtual learning experiences at UCL for those with disabilities. Many of these improvements will also benefit other Moodle users, since accessibility cannot be considered in isolation from usability, so this means an enhanced user experience for everyone!

    Accessibility of e-learning – 10 key points from the free OU course

    By Jessica Gramp, on 13 June 2017

    The UK Open University (2006) provide a useful introductory course, called Accessibility of eLearning, that will help you understand how to create accessible e-learning experiences that provide access for all. The course can be completed online, or downloaded in a number of common file formats, including for e-readers and as a PDF.

    I would strongly suggest either completing the course, or reading the course materials, but if you don’t have time I’m going to summarise the key points in this post:

    1. In 2006, disability affected 10-20% of every country’s population, and this number is growing.
    2. In 2006, 15% of the UK population, over 16 years old, self-declared a disability.
    3. A disabled person is one who has a mental or physical disability that has a substantial, long term (12 months or more), adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.
    4. Around 1 in 10 men and 1 in 200 women have red-green colour blindness.
    5. UK Universities are legally obligated to make reasonable, anticipatory adjustments to ensure those with disabilities are not discriminated against.
    6. There are two views of disability. The medical model describes the problem of disability as stemming from the person’s physical or mental limitation. The social model sees disability as society restricting those with impairments in the form of prejudice, inaccessible design, policies of exclusion, etc.
    7. Accessibility is about both technical and usable access for people with disabilities. For example, although a table of data may be technically accessible by a blind person using a screen reader, they may not be able to relate the data in each cell to its column or row heading, so the meaning of the data is lost in the process, rendering the table unusable for that person.
    8. Computers enable even severely disabled people to communicate unaided, giving them independence and privacy that is not possible when they need to rely on human assistants.
    9. When communicating online, a disability may not be visible, removing barriers caused by people’s reactions to the disability.
    10. Creating accessible learning environments helps everyone, not just those with disabilities. For example, products that can be used by blind people are also useful for people whose eyes are busy*.

    *This last point reflects my own preference for listening to academic papers while running or walking to work, when I would be otherwise unable to “read” the paper. As a student and full-time employee, being able to use this time to study enables me to manage my time effectively and merge my fitness routine, with study time. This is only possible because my lecturers, and many journals these days too, provide accessible documents that can be read out loud using my mobile smartphone.

    This list brifly summarises the key points I drew from the OU’s Accessibility of eLearning course and demonstrates some of the ways we, as developers of online courses, can make better online learning experiences for all our students, including those with disabilities.

    References

    Open University (2016) Accessibility of E-Learning. [Online]. Available from: http://www.open.edu/openlearn/education/professional-development-education/accessibility-elearning/content-section-0 [Accessed: 13 June 2017].

    Addressing ten Moodle accessibility concerns for UCL’s disabled users

    By Jessica Gramp, on 17 May 2017

    UCL staff from Digital Education Advisory and UCL’s Disability Services teams are currently looking at how to improve the accessibility of UCL Moodle for those with disabilities, which will benefit all users. Information from two focus groups, one with students and one with staff, have highlighted a number of concerns, which the Accessible Moodle project aims to address.

    The focus groups identified ten areas of concern (listed in order of priority):

    • Clutter – it is difficult to find what you are looking for amongst irrelevant links and content.
    • Emphasis – understanding what is the most important information is not easy.
    • Layout – page elements are not configurable, there is too much visible at once and the blocks are too wide.
    • Navigation and Orientation – pages are long and disorganised, with links to external services not adequately signposted.
    • Usability – some interfaces, especially for assessments, are particularly difficult to use.
    • Awareness – useful features (skip links) and services (Moodle snapshot) remain unknown to those who would benefit from them.
    • Personalisation – there’s a lack of configurable page elements (blocks, fonts, font sizes and colours) or information about how to do this independently with browser plugins and other assistive technologies.
    • Text – there’s a lot of overly long text that is too small, in a difficult to read font with poor contrast and in difficult formats both in Moodle and the resources it contains.
    • Consistency – there’s inconsistencies between some Moodle courses and conversely some courses not being adequately distinguishable from others.
    • Graphics – there’s heavy reliance of written information that could be expressed more simply with icons and images, with appropriate alternative text for those using screen readers.

    The learning curve of using new interfaces, problems with assessment, and clunky mobile access were also mentioned by the focus group participants.

    These issues will be addressed by a number of initiatives:

    • A new, more accessible UCL Moodle theme for use on desktop and mobile devices.
    • Changes to Moodle configuration.
    • Enhanced Moodle features.
    • Improved training, staff development and support.
    • Proposals to Moodle HQ and iParadigms (who provide Turnitin) to improve interfaces.

    Further updates on this project will follow on the Digital Education blog.

    Innovating Pedagogy 2016 report

    By Clive Young, on 2 December 2016

    ip2016Innovating Pedagogy 2016 is the fifth annual report from the Open University (this year in collaboration with the Learning Sciences Lab at the National Institute of Education, Singapore) highlighting new forms of teaching, learning and assessment with an aim to “guide educators and policy makers”.

    The report proposes ten innovations that are “already in currency but have not yet had a profound influence on education”. In other words they are at an early phase of the Gartner Hype Cycle. Whether any will become, in the current idiom, ‘normalised’ remains to be seen and some scepticism would be advised. However, as I noted when the 2015 version was published, such reports often frame the discussion around technology in education, even if initially only at the level of “buzz-word bingo” for enthusiasts.

    The current list “in an approximate order of immediacy and timescale to widespread implementation” is;

    • Learning through social media – Using social media to offer long-term learning opportunities
    • Productive failure – Drawing on experience to gain deeper understanding
    • Teachback – Learning by explaining what we have been taught
    • Design thinking – Applying design methods in order to solve problems
    • Learning from the crowd – Using the public as a source of knowledge and opinion
    • Learning through video games – Making learning fun, interactive and stimulating
    • Formative analytics – Developing analytics that help learners to reflect and improve
    • Learning for the future – Preparing students for work and life in an unpredictable future
    • Translanguaging – Enriching learning through the use of multiple languages
    • Blockchain for learning – Storing, validating and trading educational reputation

    The usual fascinating mix of familiar ideas with novel concepts, the report gives a quick overview of why these may be important and includes handy links to further reading if you are interested

    UCL’s new HEFCE-funded curriculum enhancement project

    By Clive Young, on 1 December 2016

    natasaFollowing our successful bid to the HEFCE Catalyst Fund, which aims to drive innovation in the higher education sector, Digital Education and CALT launch a new project today called UCL Action for Curriculum Enhancement (ACE).

    UCL ACE is one of 67 new HEFCE-funded projects which will develop and evaluate small-scale, experimental innovations with specific cohorts of learners and will run for a period of 18 months.

    The project links to our commitment in the UCL Education Strategy 2016-21 to the development and implementation of the Connected Curriculum and the ABC learning design process. It aims to develop and evaluate UCL’s innovative rapid-development approaches to blended curriculum design, which focus on a framework for research-based education (Connected Curriculum) in order to make a curriculum development pack available to all HEIs interested in improving programme design and engaging students in research-based learning.

    The project will evaluate the impact of our ABC rapid-development approaches to programme development on student outcomes and experience via case studies, produce an online and downloadable pack which can be adapted and used by any higher education institution and establish a supportive community of practice around its implementation.  

    Across UCL programmes of study are being re-designed and developed to engage students much more actively in enquiry-based learning with the Connected Curriculum (CC) framework introduced to facilitate these changes. In parallel we have seen growing use of digital resources and approaches to support new modes of study such as blended learning.

    UCL aims are to ensure that educational intentions, outcomes, activities and assessments are aligned to form a cohesive, connected and effective learning experience for our students, and that programmes of study enable students to connect more effectively with researchers, with the workplace, with each other, and with local and wider communities.

    However we recognise planning rich and complex learning environments requires a structured, dialogic approach to effecting change in programme and module design. UCL has therefore piloted an integrated set of ‘light touch’ but focused learning design approaches, including workshops, CC guides, digital benchmarks and online support.

    One key component is ABC, our effective and engaging hands-on workshop trialled with great success over a range of programmes. In just 90 minutes using a game format teams work together to create a visual ‘storyboard’ outlining the type and sequence of learning activities and assessment and feedback opportunities (both online and offline) required to meet the module’s learning outcomes. ABC is particularly useful for new programmes or those changing to an online or more blended format. This approach generates high levels of engagement, creative informed dialogue and group reflection about curriculum design among even time-poor academics. This is a highly transferrable methodology already trailed at Glasgow and Aarhus (DK) Universities. There are versions in Spanish and Dutch following other workshops run in Chile and Belgium.

    In addition, we are introducing workshops to enable programme leaders and teams to work with students to benchmark their programmes in line with the descriptors of the Connected Curriculum framework, using a published Guide.

    For this project, we aim to continue to deliver this range of dialogic workshops but track their effects and impacts carefully, using a combination of focus groups (with staff and with students), individual semi-structured interviews with key stakeholders, and analysis of programme-level and module-level metrics. We will use this focused analysis to develop a resource pack to enable these developmental activities to be scaled up, both with and beyond UCL.

    Clive Young (UCL Digital Education), will lead the project team which will include ABC co-developer Natasa Perovic (UCL Digital Education) and CALT colleagues.

    HEFCE Press release HEFCE supports experimental innovation in learning and teaching

    Moodle in the classroom

    By Domi C Sinclair, on 4 November 2016

    Words by Rebecca Yerworth:

    We all know that it is good to make lectures interactive and that there are many tools out there to help us. Various departments have invested in hardware and software to enable students to ‘vote’ or submit other responses during lectures… but how many of us use these tools? I am technically savvy and keen to apply best practice in my teaching, yet I cannot face using them! I want to, I love the concept, but have been put off by the need to install software and setup session specific activations, quite apart from the need to train myself and the students in how to use the systems. There had to be a better way I thought, how about Moodle? I’m used to putting lecture notes on it, and students are used to navigating to the right course page to find them … are there any Moodle activates which could be used within a lecture?

    So I applied for an E-learning development grant, which funded a student (Bindia) to work with me on exploring this.

    We found that “Hot Question” was the simplest and most versatile tool, but also successfully tried out “Choice” and quiz questions where you drag and drop labels on to an image (this worked really well the second time … once we had shrunk the image and shortened the labels so that they fitted on to smartphone screens!).

    I love using the ‘hot question’ activity as a virtual flip chart, and it came into its own during the revision sessions.  I displayed an exam style question on the board, and instructed students to answer part 1 via Moodle. A couple of minutes later there was a bunch of answers simultaneously displayed on the board and the students devices. “Between them these two would get full marks” I commented before going on to describe the strengths and weaknesses of the answers.  One mouse click created a new page in the activity and we moved on to another part of the question, with the previous page save for students to review later.  Students reported how helpful they found this session – and the saved answers that they could look back on later.

    Another activity which received positive feedback from the students was when we used ‘choice’ in conjunction with an on-line multi-choice medical ethics activity. The class worked through the case study together, anonymously entering their guess/answer to each question in Moodle. I then selected the most popular option on the website… “oups, most of us would have acted outside of General Medical Council Guidelines… well done the 10% of you that selected option c.” Having to enter their own choice forced the students to think through these tricky issues, and seeing what the rest of the class choose helped provide reassurance and an understanding of what other students thought.

    We made some user guides, which will be available via the UCL-Moodle help wiki, in the hope that others will be inspired to try out Moodle-In-lectures. If you do, it would be interesting to hear how you got on.

    I will defiantly be using more Moodle in lectures this year. As well as setting up specific activates, I will make sure I have a generically labelled ‘Hot questions’ and ‘Choice’ on every page that I can use and reuse for impromptu activities – like when a student ask a good question and you want to find out what the rest of the class think before providing the answer.